Some Notes on Acts 15, Pt 3

This is the third and last in a series of notes on Acts 15, a passage which comes up frequently. Acts 15 is a key to understanding Jewish-Gentile relationships to the Torah in the New Covenant.

Acts 15 Notes: Part 3
Derek Leman

Leman, Derek. Paul Didn’t Eat Pork. Stone Mountain: Mt Olive Press, 2005.

…That We Not Trouble the Gentiles…
What does James mean? What exactly is it that they are not to trouble the Gentiles to do? At the start of the chapter, we find that certain believers wanted the Gentiles to:

Be circumcised, tantamount to conversion (vs.1).
“Direct them to observe the law of Moses” (vs.5).

When James says that the leaders of the Yeshua-movement should not trouble the Gentiles, then, he means:

They need not be circumcised.
They are not obligated to the whole law of Moses.

So many scriptures teach that not all of the Torah applies to Gentiles that it should be a simple conclusion. For example, the Torah itself says Shabbat is only for Israel (Exod. 31:13), dietary law is only for Israel (Deut. 14:21), and circumcision is only for Israel (Gen. 17). Galatians 5 warns the Gentiles considering conversion that if they allow themselves to be circumcised they will have to keep the whole Torah (Gal. 5:3). Colossians 2:16 tells Gentiles not to let others judge them regarding a Sabbath day. Romans 14:5, discussing differences between Jews and Gentiles, notes that not all follow the Sabbath.

“Abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood”

These four things all had to do with pagan temple life. Meat dedicated to idols was sold in the temples and was a common source of meat. Temple prostitution was widely practiced in Greco-Roman temples, much as it had been in the Ancient Near East. Tim Hegg, in Paul: The Letter Writer, provides evidence of drinking blood and eating strangled (not drained of blood) meat in pagan temples. James was saying, “These Gentiles don’t have to start living as Jews, but they need to immediately cease pagan temple practices.

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Those who believe that the Torah applies equally to Gentiles and Jews attempt to use this verse to prove their point. Here is how they interpret it, “For now the Gentiles need only worry about four major changes in their lifestyle. We can’t expect them to adopt a Torah-lifestyle overnight. Later, they will hear the word preached in synagogue and they will learn Torah and adopt it.”

There are several problems with this interpretation:

1. The followers of Yeshua were ejected from synagogues in many places. In Rome there were riots in the streets over Yeshua earlier than 48 C.E. The trouble in Galatia, most likely involving synagogue leaders threatening to expose Gentile followers of Yeshua as frauds, also occurred quite early and before Acts 15. James would not have assumed that Gentile disciples would be in synagogues.

2. James used the past tense, not the present or future. That is, he did not say, “After all, Moses is being preach in the synagogues.” He said, “Moses has from ancient times been preached in synagogues.”

A more consistent understanding of James’ point has been offered by Rabbi Russ Resnik. He observes that James is using the past tense. His point has something to do with Moses having been preached in the past. Here is a possible answer: James is noting that the law of Moses, which has long been heard by Gentile God-fearers, did not result in a mass turning of Gentiles to God. It is the gospel which has done so. Thus, it is not conversion to a Jewish way of life that the Gentiles need.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Paul, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Some Notes on Acts 15, Pt 3

  1. Jeremiah says:

    It is interesting to note that Strangled Meat is use in the Mishnah (M.Chullin 1:5) in refrance to meat that has been cut with a jagged knife like a saw, thus rendering the meat “Strangled since it tares and does not cut”

    Peace, Jeremiah

  2. King says:

    Can you give me some examples of strangled meat.

  3. Sean says:

    Thank you, Derek, for these clarifications. They are really helpful to me.

    I have a question about the Sabbath. In A.J. Heschel’s THE SABBATH, he rightly says that the first thing called holy in the Bible is the Sabbath; that God first sanctified a day, a portion of time, then called upon man to sanctify himself, and only then did Moses consecrate the Tabernacle, something of space. His point is that part of the meaning of the Sabbath is the sanctification of time. Assuming I have not misrepresented Heschel, and assuming you agree with him(maybe you don’t), what can this mean in the life of a Gentile believer? Should Gentiles be encouraged to understand more of the depth and meaning and delight of the Sabbath, even if it is not incumbent upon them to observe it, since it is a part of Scripture, and since it is the first of all things called, or called to be, holy? and if so, should they be encouraged to incorporate something of it’s meaning into their own lives, such as setting aside a fixed time every week to rest, as rest is meant in the meaning of Sabbath (in other words, a time for true rest and not wasting it in certain forms of entertainment). When the writer of Hebrews speaks of there remaining a Sabbath rest for the people of God, how should a Gentile relate to this passage?
    Also, if a Gentile wanted to observe Sabbath, how should he or she go about it? As you have said, Sabbath observance without rabbinic tradition is almost incomprehensible(or something to that effect). But beautiful Sabbath liturgical prayers, such as the Kiddush, have wording which a Gentile cannot utter in truth, since they are to come from the lips of a Jew who has been commanded to keep the Sabbath? I myself am the son of a Jewish man who is Christian and who understands Judaism from a typically southern U.S. conservative Christian viewpoint(in other words, not in the best of lights) and of a gentile mother. I have had a strong desire recently to convert to Judaism, but am married to a Gentile and do not know any Messianic Jews and find myself perplexed as to which way to go. I long to observe Sabbath as it has been done by my father’s people, but when I utter the words of the Kiddush I feel like something is wrong, because I am not REALLY a Jew, and feel like I’m faking it a bit. Can you offer any advice? Sorry for the long comment. Thanks.


  4. Sean:

    First, about you. My feeling is that you are Jewish if your father is Jewish. To fully enter the community you would need a conversion at some point, because you likely were not circumcised on the 8th day with the intention of covenant circumcision. Nonetheless, you are Jewish as it passes through the father in the Torah. Even traditional Jews would see your connection to Judaism as strong and would see conversion as a good idea for you.

    Second, about Gentiles and Torah: Heschel would not agree that God sanctifying the day makes it a universal law.

    Rather, and this is hard for some to swallow, it shows that God intended all along that Israel should be the center of his plan for humanity. God had Israel in mind at Creation. This is why Sabbath is foreshadowed and why there are parallels in the Creation account and the tabernacle.

    I’ll be at a writer’s conference this four-day weekend. I might not have a chance to reply until Tuesday if you want to converse further.


  5. Steve says:

    Some of the ancient Jewish commentary writings discuss Adams and Eves fall as the trees and Apple as being more metaphorical as a sexual seduction and an act of Idolatry with Satan. Seduced, beguiled terms often used in modern translations have added this question to theological discussions, but what I see is the Idolatry aspect when they both turned from God and followed (while briefly) the fallen angel. Just prior to this event was the fall of the angels and Adam being part of the subject of that rebellion.

    I’ve been wondering with James the Just refers to in the Book of Acts, for these recent covert gentiles in Christ to stay away from Idolatry and immoral sexual acts. If this is being referenced in James, not only goes to when these gentiles recently had followed pagan traditions, but also goes to the dawn of man, and following covenants which apply.

  6. viola rogers says:

    If Torah is for Jews only and Gentiles need not be observant, then I think it would be best if Jews marry only Jews and Gentiles only Gentiles. Besides we’re commanded to be equally yoked. This should be strongly encouraged.

  7. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Viola… yes, it would be best for Jews to marry only Jews (or, ONLY those Gentiles who made a choice to make Jewish people their own in every way, like Zipporah, Rahab, Ruth and as Derek would add, Caleb and Uriah the Hittite).

    Also, marrying within isn’t not just about observance of Torah (as important as it is), but it’s about the continuation of the Jewish people and prevention of their assimilation into surrounding culture.


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